Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 will be taken together as they are alternative amendments.
Firearms Bill, 1971: Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "by" in line 11 to the end of the section and substitute "deleting the definition of ‘firearm' therein and substituting the following:—
‘The word "firearm" means a lethal firearm or other lethal weapon of any description which is capable, or which can be rendered capable, when fired or otherwise operated of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile and, save where the context otherwise requires, includes a component part of a firearm'".
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are largely alternative amendments. There is a point in the second one which is not in the first. It would be appropriate to discuss them together.
I indicated on the Second Reading that I was not happy with the definition of "firearm" in the 1925 Act and that I thought it would be better to seek to improve on that definition by replacing it in its entirely rather than by adding the words which the Minister proposes to add to the definition in section 2 of the Bill.
The Minister will recall that the definition under the Act of 1925 is that the word "firearm" means a lethal firearm or other lethal weapon of any description from which any short, bullet or other missile can be discharged. There is an extension of definition as regards airguns and some other things under the 1964 Act. The Minister now seeks to extend it further in the Bill as it stands by adding, in section 2, "save where the context otherwise requires" that the word "firearms" shall include a component part of a firearm.
Under the original definition the position was—and would still continue to be even under the Minister's proposal in section 2 of the Bill—that the test of whether or not an article is a firearm should be the capability of that article to discharge any shot, bullet or other missile. That definition obviously gives rise to difficulties. The Minister will agree that it has, in actual practice, given rise to difficulties in the courts in that if a part of a firearm is even temporarily removed from it so as to render it incapable of being fired then, even though the missing part can be replaced immediately, so long as it is out of the firearm it is no longer a firearm within the definition under the 1925 Act. It seems to me that the simple way of remedying that situation and of ensuring that the extraction of a particular article from a gun will not be used as a device to get around the definition would be to do something on the lines I have suggested in my amendments, and to define a firearm as being a weapon which is either capable of being fired or can be rendered capable of being fired.
In my first amendment I am suggesting that a completely new definition of the word "firearm" should be inserted. It should read:
The word "firearm" means a lethal firearm or other lethal weapon of any description which is capable, or which can be rendered capable, when fired or otherwise operated of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile and—
Then add that which the Minister wishes to incorporate in section 2
—save where the context otherwise requires, includes a component part of a firearm.
Without patting myself on the back I think that definition would be a vast improvement on the existing definition. It would provide a complete safeguard against the situation which can arise where a person charged with an offence in relation to a firearm can plead that it is not a firearm because a trigger or some other part of it was not actually in it.
I raised the point on Second Reading with regard to the Minister's choice of the words "component part". The Minister may be quite right. It may be that the choice of the word "component" is an appropriate choice to make and an oppropriate word to use. I have some doubts about it because it seems to me that "component part" may be interpreted as being a part which actually exists in the whole, and that when it is taken out of the whole it cannot be a component part and, if it is in it, it is a component part. But if it is a completely new part that has never been assembled to form part of the whole there might be doubt as to whether or not it would then properly be regarded as a component part. It is with that in mind and in order to give the Minister an opportunity of considering it that I have also put down as an alternative the second of these amendments, which is the same as the first except that it contains the additional words in the last line: "a component part of a firearm whether or not such part ever formed a constituent part of an assembled firearm". I want to make it quite clear that a component part within the meaning that the Minister wants to assign to it in this Bill will be regarded as a component part not merely if it was in a gun and then taken out of it but even if it is a new part that has never been in a fully-assembled gun.
I should like to make it clear that, while I feel either of these amendments would cover the definition more than adequately and certainly would be a vast improvement on the existing definition, I am naturally not committed to them. If the Minister accepts the principle of the amendment that the definition of a "firearm" should be altered so as to safeguard against the kind of situation which has arisen and to remove from the definition as being the test the capability of the firearm to discharge, I would be quite happy to meet the Minister. I would urge that the Minister might try to accept one or other of these two amendments.
I grasp the point that Senator O'Higgins is making. It is a point which I endeavour to cover in section 2. In other words, it is my amendment to the original definition, as amended. I submit to the House that my section covers the points that Senator O'Higgins is making. I am saying this because a component part is proposed in the Bill to be brought within the definition of a firearm. There is no need to have a separate provision in respect of a weapon which can be rendered capable of discharging a shot. In accordance with section 2 of the Bill as it stands possession of a part will attract all the penalties of the Act for the unauthorised possession of a complete firearm. There is no need to provide specifically that a complete but defective firearm will also be within the definition of firearm because it will be within it in any case.
The second alternative that Senator O'Higgins proposes is identical with the first except that it goes on to propose that a component part should be within the definition of "firearm" whether or not it ever formed a constituent part of an assembled firearm. I am advised that the words "a component part of a firearm" constitute a concept "at large" as opposed to a spare part or an extra part and, accordingly, it is not necessary to have the additional refinement which is in the second alternative proposed by Senator O'Higgins.
I do not follow that. Is the Minister saying that an additional part would not be a component part?
No, I am saying that the word "component" as opposed to the word "spare" or "extra" or some such word was deliberately used in the drafting of the Bill because the word "component" is the most all-embracing word and covers all the different concepts of "part". It covers a part on its own; it covers the concept at large; it covers a part that was never part of any assembled firearm and it also covers a part which is a spare part or an extra part. It covers also the situation which Senator O'Higgins envisages of a firearm which is defective because one part is broken or missing and it cannot be fired. It covers that case because all the unbroken parts of such a firearm are component parts of a firearm which would come under my definition in section 2. While I quite appreciate the points that Senator O'Higgins is making I should like to assure him that all those situations or contingencies are covered by my own shorter amendment in section 2.
I do not want to argue with the Minister but may I put this point of view to him? I may be wrong but it seems to me that the acceptance of the Minister's section 2 as amending the original definition would still leave the definition open to doubt in certain circumstances. At least it would leave it open to argument and it would be a question then for the courts to resolve the argument whereas I think that either one of my amendments would leave it open neither to doubt nor argument.
No, for this reason: "component part" is all embracing. The basic situation I wanted to get at in section 2 was to overcome the problem that is created by the inability of the prosecution to prove capability of discharge.
That is still——
No, because a man can be charged with having in his possession a component part of a firearm. It is quite evident that a "component part" is at all times incapable of discharging a shot and therefore the situation that Senator O'Higgins is trying to cover in his amendment is in fact fully covered. That possibility of dispute would not arise.
I would accept that, provided the charge relates to a "component part".
It quite evidently would.
In other words the charge of possession of a firearm would disappear and it would always in future be a charge of possession of a component part of a firearm.
I would envisage that the charge would be in relation to the possession of a component part, except in cases where the Garda got possession of a firearm which they had tested in their ballistic division and were able to prove that it could discharge a shot.
Would my amendment not rule out all that kind of trouble?
No, there is no trouble at all.
Is the amendment withdrawn?
Yes, I will accept the Minister's assurances on it.
It is now 6 o'clock. Is it proposed to adjourn for tea?
I suggest that we adjourn until 7.30 p.m.
Business suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 7.30 p.m.
Amendment No. 3 is consequential on amendment No. 6 and therefore they may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 3:
In line 11, after "hereby amended," to insert "(a)" and to add after "firearm" in lines 13 and 14 the following:
"(b) by the addition, after the definition of ‘prohibited weapon', of the following:
‘the expression "prohibited substance" means and includes any substance capable of exploding whether or not it may be detonated by the addition or admixture of some other substance and capable on explosion of being dangerous to life or property.'"
Since I put down these amendments, on looking over what I proposed, it seemed to me that I had overlooked the very wide way in which I drafted the first of these amendments. My view is that, if it were to be useful to the House, it would require a further amendment in such a way as to prevent my suggested amendment No. 3 from being applicable to substances like petrol which is used in cars. I recognise that, as drafted, my amendment No. 3 would make it an offence or might make it an offence for somebody if amendment No. 6 were applied, to import car petrol or diesel oil or any combustible substance of that kind, the use of which is normally innocuous, into the north of Ireland. I need not tell the House that that was not my intention. If I have an opportunity I will revise that amendment.
I do not wish to hold up the House or the Minister and if the House will allow me to do so I shall continue on the basis that the amendments are so revised as to take usually innocuous substances out of them; otherwise I shall have to withdraw these and put down further amendments at the Report Stage. However, if the House has no objection to discussing these amendments on the basis that I acknowledge that, as drafted, amendment No. 3 is too wide, I shall continue.
On the last occasion we were discussing this Bill the Minister commented on the speeches made from this side. He was good enough to say that my speech was the only one which he called party political: "the only party political speech made here today." I cannot see why the Minister should have chosen to say that about it. I think I mentioned my party or his party only once and that was for the purpose of pointing out that there was no particular difference between us in regard to our anxiety to preserve peace in the North of Ireland.
My criticism of this Bill was that its basic purpose seemed to be to forestall violence in the North and that, as drafted, it would not do very much towards that end. Why I should be disentitled to make that criticism or why it should be said by the Minister that this is a party political point, I do not know. What are we here for if it is not to examine, and examine critically, legislation proposed by the Government?
It seemed to me at the time — and this is relevant to this subsection—that this Bill was being introduced for the purpose of impressing the people in the North of Ireland and the people in London. I still believe that, and nothing that the Minister has said in reply to the Second Stage has persuaded me otherwise. I do not dispute, and I made it clear on the Second Stage that I did not then dispute, the sincerity of the Government's desire to impress people outside the borders of this State with their anxiety to forestall violence in the North. All I am saying is that it is not enough to show anxiety; you must back it up by action, and my point on the Second Stage was that this Bill was defective in several respects, in as much as it did not make it likely that its passage into law would have any serious effect on diminishing violence in the North. I instanced in this regard the absence from the Bill of any reference to explosives other than such explosives as might be comprehended in the definition of "ammunition" in section 2 of the Principal Act.
In replying to the Second Stage the Minister said at column 387, Volume 70, of the Seanad Report of 10th June, 1971:
That there is on the Order Paper of the Dáil at the moment, having received its First Reading there, the Dangerous Substances Bill, which seeks to modernise certain aspects of the law relating to explosives.... At the same time it is pretty clear and there are very extreme penalties for the unlawful possession of explosives at the moment. They are a great deal heavier than the existing penalties or even the proposed penalties for the unlawful possession of guns or ammunition.
I accept all that. It is not easy for me to deal with the question of the Dangerous Substances Bill, because the Bill has not yet been printed and I have not been able to get sight of it. At the same time while the law relating to explosives, as the Minister rightly says, provides very heavy penalties, my concern is that the same idea lurking behind section 4 of the present Bill should be equally applied to explosives. In other words, the same idea which the Minister explained to the House last week, in regard to making it clear beyond any doubt that having firearms with the intention of endangering life meant life outside as well as inside the Twenty-six Counties, should be applied equally to explosives.
That was my concern and I do not observe that that concern is shared by the Minister or his Department and that was one of the main planks on which my criticism last day was based, because we all know that the loss of life or injury to property in the Six Counties at the moment is caused not only by bullets but also by explosives. Some of the most tragic cases, and the ones which least differentiate between military and police personnel on the one hand and civilians on the other, are caused by explosives. Before I will accept that the Government is taking its responsibilities in this regard seriously — I do not deny that its heart, or that of the leading clique in the Government anyway, is in the right place on this issue—but, I want to see a provision which is going to make it plain beyond doubt that it is not lawful for some one in this part of the country to have explosives for use in, or to organise the importation of explosives into the North of Ireland, and I want to see explosives put on the same footing as firearms. It is for that purpose that amendment Nos. 3 and 6 are put down.
Looking at the 1883 Explosive Substances Act it would seem to me to be clear enough that the "unlawful purpose" mentioned there in regard to the possession of explosives is fulfilled if one's purpose is to cause an explosion even outside the boundaries of this State. In that regard I think the Minister is perfectly right in what he said before he quoted the passage from Judge Ryan's direction to the jury in a case in Letterkenny last year. I think he is perfectly right in saying that one would naturally assume that human life and property, in the context of the matter being dealt with in section 4, would be protected by the section whether it was inside or outside our jurisdiction. For myself, with respect to the judge, that provision would have given me no trouble. The Minister is right to put the thing beyond all doubt by this section, but if it is being put beyond all doubt by this section, it is equally important that the matter of explosives should be put beyond all doubt by this section, too. It is equally important that our feeling in this State in regard to explosives and in regard to people who may organise the importation of such substances into the North of Ireland or the importation of firearms there, should be translated into law. I do not see any sign in this Bill — possibly the Dangerous Substances Bill which has not yet been made available to Members of either House will contain such a section — that the Government is meeting its responsibility in this regard.
It would have been, I suppose, open to me to promote an amendment of the 1883 Explosive Substances Act so as to put this beyond doubt in that context, but it seemed to me that I probably would be taking this matter too far afield if I were to import into a discussion on this year's Firearms Bill an amendment of an Act passed almost 100 years ago. It seemed to me that the best way to do this, therefore, was to extend the definition section of the Principal Act by including a defintion of a prohibited substance which, broadly speaking, is a substance which is capable of being exploded.
When I put that down I overlooked the fact that there are substances which are frequently, indeed usually, used innocuously such as petrol which, of course, can be exploded. I would have wished to put down an amendment, and still will, if need be, on the Fourth Stage, in order to remove the innocuous substances from this proposed definition. What I would have suggested would be that the Minister should have power by regulation to exclude from such a definition of "prohibited substances" substances which are commonly and legitimately used and the exclusion of which could cause no danger. I would wish that all other explosive substances — gelignite, dynamite, plastic explosive, things used in quarrying and so forth — should be treated on exactly the same basis as firearms and ammunition, bombs, grenades, and so on, and that we should make it clear that anyone who possesses them in this part of the country with the intent of causing damage to life or limb or property in the North of Ireland or organises their importation there is equally under the displeasure of the Irish people and incurs the penalties which their Parliament provides.
The second of the amendments which I have put down, amendment No. 6, was one which sought to make sure that both in regard to what I wanted to call prohibited substances and in regard to firearms and ammunition, it would be an offence for anybody in this country, putting it broadly, to organise or attempt to organise, to send or to bring dangerous or lethal things into the North of Ireland, either to bring them in across the land boundary or to organise their importation into the North by some other route. I phrased, I am afraid, in a rather prolix way, but perhaps somebody who is a better draftsman than I am would have been able to make it shorter. However, this Bill is not doing its job, and I hope the Minister will take this criticism seriously and will not again describe it as a party political criticism. This Bill is not doing its job in so far as it leaves it a matter not penalised under the firearms code for somebody in this jurisdiction to organise the importation into the North of Ireland of lethal weapons or substances.
I am not trying to make a cheap point out of this, but things have happened in the Fianna Fáil Government over the last year or so which require no emphasis from me. The people know about them and they can draw their own conclusions. I am not going to throw in the Minister's teeth, with any particular emphasis, what was said by a Deputy of his party recently in regard to the alleged placing by Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas of firearms at the disposal of people in the North of Ireland. That may have been a piece of foolish hyperbole. Knowing the Deputy concerned, it would not surprise me if it was. I am not laying any particular emphasis on that, but for so long as it is possible for somebody to say that a thing like that was done, for so long as it is possible for anyone to suppose that a thing like that could lawfully be done, then our firearms code is defective. In my view it is not enough for us to tighten up the law within our own boundaries. If we are interested in the North of Ireland—and I believe we have not shown enough interest in it over the years— and if our view is that we must do everything which in our power lies to control violence and bloodshed up there, then we must do all we can to prevent the importation of arms into the North of Ireland and penalise attempts or conspiracies or incitements to do so.
We have all got our own sympathies in this matter and quite likely the sympathies on this side of the House do not differ very much, if at all, from the sympathies on the other side of the House. We all have our own views about recent and early history and about who was to blame for the events of this month or that month or the other month. I can well see that a man who, in the ordinary course of events, is law-abiding and decent, will still have a heart and a mind passionate enough to say: "The time has come when it is no use talking about law and order any more. The people with whom I feel myself identified by history and tradition are in danger and I must do what I can to help them. I am going to do something even though the law would not condone it."
There are people like that, and I suppose that if the crunch came and if I were in that situation I might feel like that myself and I am not at all trying to take a high and mighty attitude towards people who experience that kind of feeling. The events of the last year-and-a-half or two years in the North of Ireland must have convinced everybody in this jurisdiction, even if nothing else could convince them, that once they start putting guns into people's hands, unless they are in the hands of the Army of this State, there is no control over their use. Although there may be a very strong emotional pull on some people to put firearms, or ammunition or weapons of one kind or another into the hands of people who they feel are threatened, innocent people whose lives they feel are in danger. I sympathise with them and understand that feeling. Although that feeling may be there, the events of the last couple of years have shown that you cannot give instructions that a particular gun is to be used only in self defence. That is the reason why in every civilised State in the world lethal weapons are only entrusted, as a rule, to people who are disciplined in their use, who are used to obeying orders, and who in democratic countries take these orders only from democratically constituted authority.
Making every allowance for the emotional feelings of people on this subject, this Parliament must not make any apology for saying: "If shots are to be discharged in the name of the Irish people it will be on the authority of Dáil Éireann and on that authority only." We will take the unpopular consequences necessary in order to effectuate that principle. I should like to see the Government doing what they can to prevent anyone within this jurisdiction from organising the importation of arms into the North of Ireland for either side, whether it be the people who are supporting the so-called provisionals, on the one side, or the people who are supposed to be crypto- "B" Specials, on the other side. I do not believe in an uneven application of the law. Until this Government show that they will do what they can to prevent people organising the bringing of arms into the North, I am not persuaded by the Bill and I do not consider that I am making a cheap party-political point by saying so.
These are the reasons for amendments Nos. 3 and 6. I recognise that amendment No. 3 goes too far, inasmuch as, if it were passed into law as it stands, it would impose an unfair restriction on something innocuous like motor car petrol and, as I say, if it comes to that, I would put down a further amendment at the Report Stage and a consequential amendment instead of amendment No. 6. The House deserves a full and complete reply from the Minister as to what his intentions are or what the Government's intentions are in regard to explosives as distinct from firearms in connection with the question of their possible importation into the North of Ireland.
While Senator Kelly was talking I was reading that amendment. All I know about chemistry could be written on the back of a postage stamp, but I know this much. If that section was left as it is, any substance, capable by the addition of another substance, of causing an explosition, would render the person in possession of them amenable under this Bill. If you stopped any woman on the street after coming out of a supermarket, she would have in her bag substances which are harmless, but which, when added to another substance, would be far from harmless. This covers a very wide range of things. This section as it stands makes it possible to charge practically every person who makes a purchase in a shop.
I understand what Senator Kelly was trying to explain. It would be difficult to name all the substances which when combined with another would become dangerous and this would be necessary. To leave the section so wide open as this would prevent action being taken against anybody.
I accept the criticism Senator Honan makes about this. The reason why I mentioned the mixture of other substances was that, out of my own extremely limited chemical knowledge, I know there are some explosives which are detonated by the admixture of another acid. By themselves they are harmless, but when mixed with an acid they cause a fearful explosion. I see Senator Honan's point. I began by acknowledging it and what I had proposed to do was to extend the amendment by making it possible for the Minister, by regulation, to exclude from prohibited substances things which seem to him innocuous. I trust him to get his experts to draw up a list of things which are in common use and innocuous, such as motor car petrol or weed killer. There are some types of weed killer which, as the Minister probably knows, are fooled around with by school children and cause terrible explosions which sometimes cause death or serious injury. It would have been much easier for me to draft this amendment, if I could have seen the text of the Dangerous Substances Bill which the Minister is having printed for the Dáil.
I could not accept either of these amendments of Senator Kelly, even if he amended them further, as he suggests. The reasons are obvious. I need not go into some of these reasons as the Senator has already given them. One of the more important reasons is that when this Bill was published about a month or six weeks ago, I gave an interview on the radio and I made a point at that time of making it clear that the Government were most anxious to do the same in relation to explosives, with whatever necessary amendments there might be, as they were now doing in this Bill in relation to firearms. That is still very much our intention. The reason that we did not do in this Bill, in relation to explosives or explosive substances, what we are doing in relation to firearms, is that this is a Firearms Bill. It seeks to amend and extend the Firearms Acts, 1925-1968, and it would be out of order, in my view, to seek to amend the law relating to explosives in this Bill. It would have been my submission to you, Sir, had you not, presumably, already ruled that the amendments were in order, that they were not in order. However, you have ruled that they are.
In so far as firearms are concerned, and I think the same thing applies, or can be made in appropriate legislation to apply, to explosives, it is already an offence for a person to be in unauthorised possession of a firearm or ammunition, and it is an offence under section 16 of the 1925 Act for a person to consign for export or for removal from one place in the State to another, any firearm or ammunition, without an authorisation in writing from the superintendent of the Garda Síochána for the district, save in the case of a person who is the holder of a firearm's certificate and who is carrying with him or consigning the firearm or ammunition. Apart from its being illegal for any other reason or under any other enactment or section, it is already an offence under section 16 of the 1925 Act, to export such goods from the State — and for the purposes of these Acts "State" means the Twenty-six Counties.
What Senator Kelly urges at some length with regard to explosives is accepted, but this is not the place to make the case. As I pointed out a month or six weeks ago, the place to do it is in an Explosives Bill, and we hope to publish one shortly. The drafting of it is not yet completed. There could be similar provisions with regard to explosive substances to those in regard to firearms in this Bill.
I see the Minister's point but it does not really meet what I was saying. First of all, the Minister in his opening speech in which he recommended the Bill to the House, said that it enjoyed a good deal of support with the public. But in his opening speech he said nothing about his intentions in regard to explosives and dealt with them only very cursorily in his closing speech. Furthermore, I cannot see what is out of order in incorporating sections relative to explosives in this Bill.
This matter does not arise for discussion. The Chair has ruled that these amendments are in order.
What I was going to say was that the Minister was telling the House that he felt that it would not have been in order for him to import into a Firearms Bill some provisions in regard to explosives. I cannot see where the logic of that is. It is not a question of order; it is a question of what the Oireachtas resolves. In its definition section the Principal Act already contains words which make it perfectly clear that an aerial bomb is a firearm. That is perfectly clear from the Principal Act. A bomb, grenade or, a landmine is a firearm; I should not like to have to decide it in the last instance but arguably a landmine is a firearm and certainly an aerial bomb is a firearm. We are dealing with things of the same species. We should not quibble about this: the Explosive Substances Act of 1875 and 1883 regulate the keeping of gelignite and things of that kind.
Here we are dealing with a Bill which is a political Bill and which is supposed to be impressing people in the North of Ireland. It is not sufficient to be told that the Bill just bears a different title from the explosives code. We are trying to tell the people in the North of Ireland that, so far as we are concerned, we are not going to allow people within this jurisdiction to connive at bloodshed up there. I want to tell them that on behalf of my party, and I expect the Minister will do the same for his party. There was nothing to stop the Minister from making a consolidating Bill into which he would bring the question of explosives of the kind that are left behind in a doorway or detonated in some way like that, and nobody on this side of the House would have objected to it. I cannot see what is out of order about it.
The Minister has not replied to the question of somebody organising the importation of arms. He has said that it is an offence under the 1925 Act to export arms from one part of the State to the other. I should like the Minister's view — I am not in any way trying to trip him up. I have no positive answer to this myself; the matter has only just occurred to me since the Minister has raised it — would it be in order for me, under the law of this State, to telephone to Vienna and to instruct a man in Vienna to despatch arms overland to Antwerp and thence to some part in the North of Ireland? If I do that, am I within my rights, so far as the law of this State is concerned? If I am within my rights, then I ought not to be. If this House and the other House and all parties in both Houses are serious—as I believe we are serious — about the intense violence in the North, then the organisation of bringing or sending arms into the Six Counties must be an offence here, so far as we can make it an offence for either side. I am not taking sides about it. The Minister has not dealt with an important question on which I should like to hear his views, that is, the position of somebody who is safely in Dublin, organising by telephone or in some other way, or inciting somebody else to organise, the importation of arms into the North of Ireland by some other route, not necessarily touching an inch of the territory of this State.
In view of Senator Kelly's remarks at the outset, we should discuss this purely from the point of view of the principle involved in these amendments. As I understand the contributions of both Senator Honan and the Minister, the principle advocated by Senator Kelly in these amendments is acceptable to both. If I am correct in that — and I think I am; it is implicit in what both the Minister and Senator Honan said — what we have to think of at this stage is the time factor in relation to the Dangerous Substances Bill which the Minister has forecast. I understand that that Bill has not yet been printed. I do not know if it is on the list of priorities which the Government propose to ask the Dáil to deal with before the Summer Recess. Perhaps the Minister can inform the House on that. If it is not, the position is that we are going to allow this country to go through the summer period, 12th July and the rest, in the North, without having the cover of the protection which Senator Kelly's amendments would afford the Government here, and the authorities generally.
It is not necessary for me to emphasise that the particular period which faces the country over the next few months, the summer period, can be an all-important one with regard to this matter and that the time factor is important. If the principle proposed here is accepted, it should not cause any strain on the Minister or his Department to accept that the intention, the principle, behind these amendments, should appear in the Firearms Bill, rather than or, if necessary, in addition to, appearing in a Dangerous Substances Bill. The Minister made the point — and as far as the legal position is concerned, he is correct — that under section 16 of the Firearms Act, 1965, it is already an offence to export firearms or consign to export firearms from the State, or to remove them from one place to another within the State.
However, I do not think that there is any answer in the 1925 Act, or in the case made by the Minister, to the point urged by Senator Kelly, namely, that at the moment there is nothing unlawful in a person in this State making arrangements to have arms consigned to the North of Ireland from some place outside the State. It is an offence under section 16 of the 1925 Act to export firearms from here to the North of Ireland, but I do not think there is any offence at all involved in someone placing an order in London, Birmingham or Vienna, or anywhere else, to have a consignment of arms shipped from there into the North of Ireland.
Under the definition of "ammunition" contained in the Firearms Act of 1925, it is valid to point out that grenades, bombs and other similar missiles are specifically included. These are weapons, whatever you like to call them, that depend for their effect on an explosive substance being detonated. Having regard to the fact that they are already within the firearms code it certainly does not seem to me to be out of place in firearms legislation to deal with the type of dangerous substance that is referred to in these amendments of Senator Kelly. If there is agreement in principle, having regard to the dangers particularly in the months ahead, having regard to the time factor and to the Dáil programme and also to the programme of this House as regards an unprinted Bill to which the Minister refers, I would strongly urge the Minister to think again on this matter.
Senator Kelly expresses dissatisfaction that I did not answer the question he posed, but in the next breath he says that he only though of it while I was speaking the last time, so I think it would have been rather difficult for me to have answered it. The net point that he appears to be making is that we should enact by amendment No. 6 some prohibition on people here bringing guns from some other part of the world to another place outside our jurisdiction. We might as well, in my opinion, pass a Bill saying that it shall not be lawful to transport shortguns from the North Island of New Zealand to the South Island.
We are talking about Ireland, not about New Zealand.
We are talking about places over which we exercise no jurisdiction. We are wasting our time and making ourselves appear foolish if we seek to pass law here that relates to places which we do not govern at the present time.
What is your section 4 about?
It suits Senator Kelly's book to make it appear that the Government are, as he probably alleges in some way trying to facilitate the bringing of arms from England or somewhere else into the Six Counties.
I never alleged such a thing. On the contrary. It is disgraceful for the Minister to say such a thing.
This is the Committee Stage and Senator Kelly will have an opportunity of speaking again. The debate shall proceed in a more orderly manner without interruption.
The importation which this second amendment seeks to prohibit is to a place that is outside our jurisdiction at the moment. It would be equally effective for us to provide in a section here that somebody in New Zealand might or might not do a certain thing. There is nothing effective we can do about it.
I want to protest in the strongest possible terms about what the Minister has just said. I have a sense of national responsibility as well as a sense of party loyalty. It would never cross my mind, in a deadly situation like this, to impute to the Fianna Fáil Government, rotten though I think they are, an intention in regard to the North of Ireland which I do not think they have got. I want to make it clear that I have never alleged that, that I went out of my way two or three times in this debate to make it clear that I thought the opposite. I believe that the Fianna Fáil Government, or those who are in control of the Government at the moment, sincerely wish for peace in the North. I am not alleging any such thing as the Minister tried to put into my mouth. I am not alleging that he or the Taoiseach or any other member of the Government wants to bring arms into the North of Ireland. I accept unreservedly that they do not want to do such a thing. All I am saying is that this Bill, which is supposed to give effect to their wish to forestall violence in the North of Ireland, will not do it. It does not go far enough to do it. It does not begin to go far enough to do it.
I do not like to stand on my dignity and I am willing to take a poke in the eye in debate as well as anybody, but I consider that the Minister owes this side of the House an apology for that outrageous statement, that we are trying to give the Government a black eye in this deadly situation which we know that this particular Government, at any rate, does not deserve.
The Minister's references to the North Island and the South Island of New Zealand do not square easily either with the philosophy of his party, such as it is, or with section 4 of the Bill which is now before the House. Section 4 of this Bill, with which I am in entire agreement, is intended, according to the Minister — and I accept all this, as I think he is quite right — to put beyond doubt that the possession in the jurisdiction of arms which are likely to be dangerous to life and property includes life and property outside the jurisdiction of the Oireachtas. In other words, to take the Minister's elegant example, I could be guilty of an offence under section 4 if I possessed arms in this jurisdiction intending to kill someone in New Zealand. It is right that it should be so. It is equally right that it should be so in regard to the importation of arms. I still want to know from the Minister — he represents a party which wrote into the Irish Constitution a claim of an intransigent and belligerent kind to our Six Counties which is the greatest single obstacle at the moment to dialogue with the Northern majority — what reason he would like to give this House for making it a matter of irrelevance or for pretending that it is a matter of irrelevance that somebody here might conspire to import arms into the North.
I said a moment ago that a point had only just occurred to me. What I meant by that was that a particular image had only just come into my mind, and I do not want to trip the Minister up about this particular image, of a telephone call to Vienna ordering arms to be sent overland and by ship into the North of Ireland. That particular image has only just come into my mind and I have not got the answer to it. So far as I can see there is nothing in our Firearms Act or in our Explosive Substances Act — they are the English Acts which still apply here — which will make me a criminal if I do that, although by the common consent of the people in this House and in the other House of this Parliament, I am doing something that is absolutely wrong and immoral. I want to hear from the Minister if I am at liberty or not to order by telephone, by telegram, by letter or by sending a messenger to some part of the world —New Zealand if the Minister likes— to organise the purchase and importation of lethal arms into the North of Ireland. It is not good enough for the Minister to pretend that the North of Ireland is of no concern to us. Has he not told us himself in as many words that this is the whole point of section 4? The reason for having section 4 in this Bill is because arms which a defendant said were for use in County Tyrone could not be made the subject of a conviction in County Donegal. Has he not said that in his own words? Why then the talk about New Zealand?
I am sorry if either the Minister or I have raised the temperature of this debate, but I am only trying to get a decent Bill. I am interested as much as anybody on the other side of the House in preserving peace in the North of Ireland. I accept that the people on the far side of the House are interested in it. I am not making a party political point. I want to make this a useful and workable Bill. I would like to have this Bill, if I were in the Minister's boots, and be able to say to the people in Belfast — and I would not find fault with him for trying to impress them —"We are doing our best so far as it lies within our power to make sure that no one dies within your present boundaries." I want to know from the Minister if it is all right by him and the Government if somebody in this jurisdiction organises, at long distance, the importation of arms into the North of Ireland by a route other than through this Republic.
I should just like to comment on the two amendments proposed by Senator Kelly. They really relate, I think, to separable things. First, there is the question whether the prohibited substances should be included in the firearms code. I would be inclined to agree that they ought to be, particularly for the reasons Senator O'Higgins gave. This is something I think the Minister is not prepared to accept.
Secondly, I very strongly support Senator Kelly"s amendment No. 6 to extend the offences under this to include anybody who tries to cause or procure or attempt to cause or procure arms to be brought in or to be sent to a place other than within the jurisdiction of the Oireachtas — and here I think we clearly mean Northern Ireland. I do not accept what the Minister has said that this is unreal or that it could not relate to anybody because, as I read the amendment put down by Senator Kelly, it relates to offences which would be committed in this jurisdiction. It relates to the offences of inciting somebody to bring arms from abroad into Northern Ireland. It relates to conspiring with people to bring in arms. This conspiracy, incitement or procurement would be relevant here.
Senator Kelly asked a very fair question as to whether, at the moment, it would constitute a criminal offence. If not, is it not completely unrealistic to be enacting, in the light of recent experience of alleged importation of arms into the country, a Firearms Bill which does not close this loophole? I cannot accept what the Minister has said that it would be too remote and would be like prescribing a criminal offence for activities relating to North or South New Zealand. The fact is, under the reading of this amendment, by having the criminal offences of conspiring and inciting persons to do things, even if we did not have jurisdictional control over the things done, it would constitute a necessary, justifiable and honest extension to the Firearms Bill and I should like to support it very strongly.
It is almost impossible for me to say anything on this amendment because Professor Kelly might get into the state he was in a few minutes ago. I can only reiterate what I have already said. It is futile for a Parliament in this country to seek to pass laws to control matters that are happening outside its jurisdiction.
Listening to the debate between the Minister and Senator Kelly it seemed to me that the whole point of Senator Kelly's contention was that the acts were committed within this jurisdiction even though the acts were the cause of matters which happened outside the jurisdiction. I think this is the main burden of Senator Kelly's point. He is not concerned with telephone calls made from North to South New Zealand but he is concerned with acts committed within this jurisdiction which have the ultimate effect of arms going to Northern Ireland. This, I think, is the main point.
I am asked about this point out of the blue. I do not think I could honestly be expected to give a definitive answer to a very technical legal problem which Senator Kelly, who is a professor of law, asked me. I am positively not a professor of law.
Yes, but you are the Minister for Justice.
I am. I shall endeavour, to the best of my knowledge and ability, in so far as I understand the matter in the context of what we are discussing, to say what I believe to be the law—even though I am frequently told, in the other House, that I should not do so, that it is none of my business but the business of the courts. I believe it is impossible to have a meaningful discussion, especially on the Committee Stage of a Bill of this kind, unless you at least express your opinion.
The firearms legislation that exists at present can only extend to firearms within this jurisdiction. I think that is self evident. Therefore, if you move firearms from one part of the world to another, whether or not that other part be the remainder of this country which is not currently under our jurisdiction, the movement of those firearms cannot be an offence under our firearms legislation or indeed under any other legislation of this country. I However, it would be possible as I see it, and this is subject to advice from the Attorney General or some such person would have to consider it——
I do not want to interrupt the Minister but to prevent him going astray on that point I think it was the Minister himself who pointed out that export of arms from here to the North was an offence.
Yes, because you do the act from here. The point, I am trying to make is that if a telephone conversation takes place, which was the example given by Senator Kelly who wants an instant answer to this most profound problem——
I do not want an instant answer.
The Senator wanted it a few minutes ago. I am trying to do the best I can to answer the point. I might manage it better if I was not interrupted so often.
I can wait until to-morrow.
Perhaps the Minister would prefer us to adjourn this until tomorrow.
It would be possible, I think, to be guilty of conspiracy to commit some form of crime if persons within this jurisdiction were to conspire together, in a way that would be illegal, and it would not be an offence, it could never be an offence, against the Firearms Acts as such. However, I am not saying that it would not be an offence of conspiring to do something unlawful. It would require a better legal brain than mine and it would also need a considerably greater amount of time than I have had while standing here endeavouring to think about it. That is the best I can do in reply to these questions. I think it is a fair and reasonable summary of what the position is.
May I say nobody wants to take the Minister short. Nobody knows better than a lawyer, whether a practising lawyer or an academic lawyer, that there is nothing open and shut in law. We are not exchanging legal opinions here. I feel that when the Minister refers to me as a professor he thinks that I am throwing my academic weight, such as it is into the balance. I am not. I am just as likely to make a mistake about this matter as the next man. It is not true that I am taking the Minister short and I do not wish to take him short. I raised this point in exact terms a week ago. The Minister's officials were behind him and the Minister was listening to me, so far as I could see, with attention, and it was possible for him, having taken seriously what I was saying, to have looked it up in the meantime. I do not wish to make any particular point about that.
I regard this point as important. If this Bill goes through without some amendment to this effect it will be a sham. I do not want to be put in a position of making it appear that I am trying to get from the Minister an opinion which no lawyer would give on his feet. I am not trying to get such an opinion from the Minister at all. I have not sprung this matter on the Minister. I raised it on the Second Stage a week ago. The Minister knows that perfectly well and he can find it in the Official Report. I raised it in very precise and lucid terms a week ago and the Minister, or his advisers, did not think it worthwhile in the meantime to inquire whether or not our present law has any bearing on the position of somebody who, while in this State, organises the importation of arms into the North of Ireland from outside.
Let us not treat this matter as just a party political point. My views about Fianna Fáil are known to everybody in this House. I do not think much of the present Government, not because I believe them to be dishonest in regard to their present policy on the North of Ireland. I think the Government at the moment wish for peace in the North of Ireland and I would defend them on that issue to a foreigner, be it an Englishman or anybody else who was inclined to suspect our motives. I would defend the Taoiseach and, perhaps, even conceal the fact that I thought his administration in every other respect was disastrous. I have that much national spirit. I accept the Government's good intentions about this.
However, I say that this Bill has got a serious loophole in it. I am concerned that that loophole be closed. If the Minister would prefer, I shall withdraw this amendment and try to improve it, if I can, and put it down for the Report Stage. It is no part of this party's tactics — I want to say in all sincerity — to plot or plan to obstruct the Government, in the slightest degree, with regard to the passage of this Bill. I regard this matter as important. I am not satisfied with the Minister's explanations or remarks. I do not think he has yet grasped the point I am trying to get at. The act I am talking about which I consider should be an offence is the act of somebody within our present boundaries who arranges, conspires or procures that guns or lethal weapons be brought into the North of Ireland from wherever it may be. I do not want to extract instant legal opinions from the Minister. As I said before, we are all likely to be wrong in giving legal opinions off the cuff. However, I conceive that if I were to telephone somebody in Belfast and arrange for him to murder someone, or if I were to telephone someone in Paris and arrange to procure a murder over there, I would be guilty of conspiracy to murder under our law. I may be wrong about that. That is an instant opinion which may be incorrect.
I do not accept that it is a necessary component of every offence within the Irish Criminal Code that the offence should be completed within this jurisdiction. I am speaking off the cuff; the Minister asked for indulgence a moment ago because he was speaking off the cuff. I may be wrong about that, but I do not think there is any country in the world so uncivilised and so barbaric as to treat as a matter of indifference the preparations for an offence or the preparations for something which may be dangerous or deadly to others and done within its own frontiers, the effect of which will only be felt inside somebody's else's frontiers.
I, too, would like an opportunity to confound the Minister with examples if I can find them. I feel sure that is the case. I feel sure I am not at liberty under Irish law to procure the murder of somebody in England or in France. I think I am outside the law of Ireland if I procure or incite offences of other kinds which will be completed outside our borders. Even if there was some doubt about that, and even if there were no such case, this is a special case. We are not talking about New Zealand, we are talking about six counties, over which we solemnly lay claim to legal jurisdiction in our Constitution. In my view it was a political mistake so to do in those terms, but we have done it.
We are always talking about our sundered brethren. Is it a matter of indifference to us that people within this State can do something, organise or procure something, which may result in the deaths of these sundered brethren? Any Government who take that line are perpetrating a sham. I have said this before about the Government in regard to their attitude on several problems, the North of Ireland included.
I think the Government here genuinely intend to improve our firearms code. This is a serious loophole. If the Minister is not prepared to look at it seriously and get his Department to look at it seriously and come back on another occasion and talk about it, I will have to put down an amendment on the Report Stage.
I am certainly not going to venture to give a legal opinion on this matter other than this. It seems to me to be abundently clear that if we make an amendment, such as is suggested by Senator Kelly here, then there is no need either for the Minister, for Senator Kelly or for anyone else to be left guessing as to whether or not it would be an offence. If we declare it in this Bill, by means of an amendment on these lines, to be an offence to arrange or procure the importation from anywhere or by any source or over any route guns into the North of Ireland, then that is that, and as soon as that amendment is passed into law it is an offence. I do not think a person needs to be a lawyer, a Minister, a professor or anyone else to understand that much.
The whole point is that it already is an offence to export guns to Northern Ireland.
I am not talking about exporting guns.
Or to send them in. We might as well get down to the practicalities of Senator Kelly's amendments. There has been enough criticism of Government amendments in both Houses, of the standard of drafting and all the rest of it. Senator Kelly's amendments would have the effect that everytime a motor car travelled across the Border from the Twenty-six Counties to the Six Counties a serious criminal offence was committed by the person driving it and presumably by those in it as well.
A further example would be where a person with an ordinary licensed shotgun of more than 24 inches, and with everything else as it should be, decides to go to the Six Counties for his holidays to shoot pheasants, grouse or something of that kind. He has a firearms certificate. He is allowed to export it from this jurisdiction and has an importation certificate from the authorities in the Six Counties — I beg your pardon, not a shotgun but a shotgun of a type that would not come under the sporting weapons or a 303——
A lethal weapon.
If he has an importation certificate from the North and a firearms certificate from here and is allowed to export it from here, he still commits an offence under this. I am sure there are many more examples, but these two strike me straight away.
I accept that Senator Kelly acknowledges there are many defects in his amendments and he wants to amend them again, but I am afraid the principle would remain the same. Even if Senator Kelly were to get the opportunity of amending them into a form that would make the effect of them in those respects less outrageous than they are at the moment, I still could not accept them. They seem to have a very fundamental effect and change on an involved branch of private international law or public international law for that matter, and are away beyond anything that might or should be contemplated in a Bill of this kind.
I think the ordinary Senators sitting here listening to this have probably concluded by now that what we are discussing is a lot of codology between lawyers and it would be much easier to go on with the thing and have less of this sort of gross technicality.
I do not think it is a gross technicality and I am sorry that the Minister feels I am becoming unnecessarily impatient with him. I want the Minister to deal with a net point. He knows perfectly well what this point is and he is not dealing with it. I have acknowledged that amendment No. 3 is far too wide. Does the Minister want me to say that over and over again? I see that it is too wide and I am prepared to remedy it, if I can. Every day we sit Ministers come in here with a list of supplementary amendments which represent second or third thoughts on the part of their Departments. I am no better than the Minister's Department; I have fewer resources at my disposal, probably. I am entitled to have second thoughts about it and so is anybody else on this side of the House.
Leaving aside the question of whether I am a fine draftsman or not, the Minister is just not meeting head on the points which this House wants him to meet head on — if I understand the feelings of this side of the House at least — namely whether or not this Bill or the firearms code in this State should or should not be made to apply to somebody who, while within the State, procures the bringing of arms into the North by some route, if the Minister wishes, other than over the boundaries of the State.
I accept that section 16 of the principal Act would make it an offence if one had got arms in here to send them out again over the Border into the North. I am asking the Minister why he will not accept an amendment. Let him produce his own section to that effect; no one here will crow over him. I will not anyway. Let him produce his own section to this effect: that if anyone in this jurisdiction conspires or procures or incites the importation of arms or lethal things into the North of Ireland by whatever route, by helicopter or by plane or by direct boat to Carrickfergus or some other port in the North of Ireland, that will be an offence so far as our criminal code is concerned.
Although I have said this umpteen times I still do not seem to have got through to the Minister. I accept that the legislation is well meant. All I am saying is that it is not good enough; it just is not a good enough Bill as it stands. If the Minister persists in not meeting this point head on and in not dealing with it, I propose to withdraw these two amendments and put in amendments to replace them on Report Stage. I have absolutely no wish to hold the House up or bring the Minister back again or anything like that, but I feel I have got my duty to do and, having made this point, I just cannot let it lie.
I am rather surprised at the Minister's reluctance to consider this. There have been recent cases in England of conspiracies there where the substantive offence would have been committed abroad and no problem arose in the particular instance. I cannot see why the Minister fears this would raise problems of public or private international law because the substantive offences, as Senator Kelly has said, the conspiracy or the incitement, would take place in this jurisdiction. This would not offend against the jurisdictions of the foreign country or the North of Ireland in the transfer of weapons. They would not be concerned. What we would be concerned with here is preventing this type of activity within our State, which at a time of great national danger we ought to be concerned with. It is very much within our jurisdiction and I think very much our duty at this time to close this loophole. I would ask the Minister to look into the situation again and not to close his mind on it. The Minister ought to welcome the power to do this. I believe it would be possible to enforce and prosecute this offence if it came in. It might be a very real safeguard in this situation.
I should like to add my voice to the plea made by Senator Robinson to have the Minister calmly look into this between now and the Report Stage. As a non-lawyer and listening to the debate I am quite satisfied there is a genuine case made. I am quite satisfied it is not a party political point raised in that spirit in any way by Professor Kelly. I appeal to the Minister to have his experts look carefully into this for the next day and I hope, when it comes to Report Stage, that we will have the benefit of having a much calmer discussion and one in which the Minister will have had second thoughts.
It will not be necessary for me to think between now and any other day because I am absolutely perfectly satisfied——
That is a very wrong attitude.
We might have another Minister then.
——that this amendment is quite futile. Insofar as any offence within this country or within this jurisdiction might be committed in the circumstances set out by Senator Kelly it would be an offence of conspiracy because I believe, subject to correction, that it is possible to conspire here and thereby commit an offence here. I think the law in England, as Senator Robinson said, is much the same. In fact, the law basically would be precisely the same. It may be possible to commit the offence of conspiracy here by conspiring to do something which outside our jurisdiction would be unlawful. Beyond that we cannot go because we cannot pass a firearms code to cover places which are outside our effective boundaries at the moment. It might seem very laudable to be seen to do so but this House would simply be stultifying itself by seeking or purporting to make it an offence to comspire to do any of these things outside the jurisdiction. There is nothing to be gained by accepting these amendments even in an amended or re-drafted form.
The Minister the last day was good enough to tell the House that:
We are a sovereign Government of a sovereign State and we make our own decisions.
Even if it were, and I do not accept that it is, in some degree unusual for a provision like this to find a place in An Irish Act, what has that got to do with it if we are as soverign a State as the Minister says? If we can make our own decisions let us make these decisions. The Minister talks about the House stultifying itself. I presume what he means by that is doing something which is not effectual or which might as well not have been done. How much effect does the Minister think section 3 of this Bill is going to have, the reduction of penalties on the more innocuous form of keeping firearms? Is it worth even putting that into the Bill at all? That seemed to me, as I said the last day, to be padding and eyewash and intended merely to distract the attention from the main guts of the Bill, with which I agree. How much effect will that have? Was it even worth doing?
The Senator should not delay on that point. He was entitled to refer to it briefly by way of contrast but he should not deal with it in detail.
It was intended merely by way of contrast. There is already something in the Bill the effect of which is absolutely nil. It is only wasting the time of the Civil Service, of the Minister and of this House discussing this reduction of penalties. When a Minister produces a Bill like this, I think it does not lie in the mouth of such a Minister to tell us that something which I believe would be effective or could be effective — that is assuming that the Garda were allowed to do their duty — would be stultifying. I cannot accept the Minister's attitude about this. Although I am sincerely sorry to hold the House up and to bother the Minister again— although, of course, the Standing Orders of this House do not require the Minister to be present — I have no option but to withdraw these amendments and I intend to put them down again in an amended form on Report Stage.
I object to the withdrawing of these amendments.
The position is that amendments may be withdrawn only by leave of the House. Senator Ó Maoláin has given notice of opposition to the withdrawal of the amendments.
I apeal to the Leader of the House to observe the usual courtesy and to allow these to stand until the Report Stage. There is need to look into those again and I think we should do that.
This sounds like an attempt to stifle the debate. Is it?
An attempt to prevent looking into it again.
Senator Ó Maoláin obviously wants this debate to continue and I think we had better oblige him.
May I interrupt the Senator a moment. It was not for the purpose of wanting the discussion to continue.
I know the Senator's purpose.
It was for the purpose of reminding the House of the statement just made by the Minister and to save the time of the House in view of the heavy legislative programme before us that I want the amendments withdrawn. I see no point in putting them down for the Report Stage.
I think Senators are at cross purposes on this. I understood that Senator Kelly was proposing to withdraw these particular amendments and put down other, but not identical, amendments, on Report Stage.
That was the position, yes.
He is going to re-draft these amendments and put them in on Report Stage. In other words, it is a little trick of the loop racket, which anybody can see through.
I realise that Senator Ó Maoláin regards this House as a quaint ceremonial extension of his job in Mount Street, but I am sent here just as every other Senator is——
If the Senator wishes me to talk about the institution to which he is attached, I will talk about it.
Put down a motion about it. If Senator Ó Maoláin puts down a motion about UCD we will not put it on the long finger and we will not leave it here for a year and a half, as some of the motions on our Order Paper have been.
I will put down a motion about UCD and about the personnel running it. Professors my hat!
The question before the House is that leave be granted to withdraw amendment No. 3.
If Senator Ó Maoláin wishes this discussion on Senator Kelly's amendments to continue, as far as I am concerned I will oblige him. As I understand the position, Senator Kelly or any other Senator is quite free to put down Report Stage amendments. I am open to correction on this. He would not be in order to put down precisely these amendments on Report Stage but he is entitled to put down different amendments. If Senator Ó Maoláin hopes to defeat Senator Kelly's right to have the point which we have been discussing on these amendments discussed on Report Stage, I do not think he will succeed. If there is any danger that the point should be overlooked, as far as I am concerned we can continue discussing it now.
There is a net point involved in this and that is the right of the Houses of the Irish Parliament by their legislation to decide what will or what will not be an offence under Irish law if committed by people within our jurisdiction. That is the entire point in the case which has been made by the Minister against these amendments. He seems to be under the impression that if these amendments were accepted in principle, even if they were drafted by his own officers in a manner entirely satisfactory to himself, it would be of no effect. In fact, he believed that it might be an offence in some way against international law if we should legislate in that manner. I want to express my disagreement with the Minister on this. What is suggested is that our legislation here should provide in the Firearms Bill——
If Senator O'Higgins would permit me, I should like to repeat that the question before the House is that leave be given to withdraw the amendment. He should guard against the danger of going from discussion of that point to discussing the merits of the question.
I have already made the point about the right of Senator Kelly to put down amendments to bring out these points. Different amendments can be made on Report Stage, so it does not seem to me there is any purpose being served by the attitude adopted by Senator Ó Maoláin.
I do not want to hold the Minister and I am sincere in this, but I have been considering, since we discussed the first two amendments, the effect of section 2. I allowed myself to be persuaded rather too easily by the Minister when I withdrew amendments Nos. 1 and 2. Quite honestly I do not like the definition of "firearm" that will appear in the firearms code as a result of enacting section 2 here. I should like the Minister to give it a bit more thought before we finish the discussion on the Bill. I want to give him the reason for this suggestion. Under the Firearms Act, 1925, the definition is stated in section 1 as follows:
The word "firearm" means a lethal firearm or other lethal weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged.
Under section 2 of this Bill, we are adding to that:—
and, save where the context otherwise requires, includes a component part of a firearm
What is a component part of a firearm? Surely, having regard to the definition in the 1925 Act, this would read "a component part of a firearm from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged". In other words, it seems to me that we are in danger still of being tied to the old test as to whether or not the firearm is capable of discharging a bullet. I may be wrong in this, but I think it would be worth the Minister's while to have a look at this section again.
I think we went into all that pretty fully on the amendments and I am quite satisfied that the phrase used in the section "component part" is the best possible phrase and that it covers all the sort of situations envisaged by Senator O'Higgins.
My only worry is that it is a component part of a firearm. A firearm has already been defined as a lethal weapon from which a bullet can be discharged.
By definition a component part of itself, no matter what component part is is, could not discharge a projectile of any kind or a bullet, and therefore, it would be impossible for the words "component part" to be defined judicially in the way that Senator O'Higgins fears.
It is a component part of something and the something is a firearm which can discharge.
Yes, but provided that the component part, the piece, whatever it is, would be capable of forming part of a firearm which would be capable of firing a shot. If you had, say, only the stock or only the barrel you could not prove that it would not.
You could not prove that it could.
If you accept it is a component part of a firearm.
What is a firearm? Something which can discharge a bullet under the definition.
It is impossible to prove anything, so.
That is the difficulty.
I do not want in any way to sound disrespectful but I think this is legalism to the nth degree.
The difficulty, which the Minister will appreciate, is that the interpretation of this will depend on legalism. That is my worry.
My experience of courts is that they do not go into matters quite as deeply as Seanad Éireann, for better or for worse.
I move amendment No. 4:
Before section 3 to insert a new section as follows:—
"Section 2 (1) of the Firearms Act 1964 is hereby amended by the addition of the following:—
‘and, save where the context otherwise requires, includes a component part of any such airgun, other weapon or prohibited weapon'."
I am not sure if this is necessary but I wanted to call the attention of the Minister to it and for that reason I put down this amendment. As the Minister realises, we have just amended the definition of "firearm" under the 1925 Act. The 1964 Firearms Act, in section 2, amended the definition of "firearm" and extended it to include an airgun, which expression includes an air rifle and an air pistol and any other weapon incorporating a barrel from which metal or other slugs can be discharged, or prohibited weapon. The Minister's amendment in section 2 of the present Bill is for the purpose of extending the definition of "firearm" to the component parts of a lethal firearm or other lethal weapon. This does not necessarily mean that the component parts of firearms caught by extended definition under the 1964 Act are captured by the alteration that is now being made. I may be wrong in that, and if I am, I will accept the Minister's word on it. It may be necessary to perform a similar operation on the definition which is contained in the 1964 Act and also to include component parts of an airgun, air rifle and other weapon or prohibited weapon. That is the kernel of my amendment here.
I can give an assurance to Senator O'Higgins that his amendment is not necessary and that section 2 of this Bill fully covers the point he is making.
Is that on the basis that section 2 of the 1964 Act is, so to speak, written into the expression "firearm" in the 1925 Act?
Section 1 of the Principal Act must be read as amended by section 2 of the 1964 Act.
I shall accept the Minister's assurance, but all this seems to show that my original proposition was the right one, that we should scrap this idea of having definitions in three separate Acts and now put in one composite definition that would cover the lot. After this Bill is passed the position is that a person who wants to find out what a firearm is must first of all read the 1925 Act; then he has to look at the 1964 Act to see how the definition of "firearm" was amended there; then he has to look at the 1971 Act, as it will be, to see how the dtfinition of "firearm" is further amended. Perhaps by the time the Minister gets in with his Dangerous Substances Act, he may have to look at still another Act.
There is always that difficulty, and consolidating Acts would be the solution.
If Senator Ó Maoláin does not object, I shall withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 3, lines 6 and 7, paragraph (2B) (a) to delete from "in length" to the end of the paragraph and substitute "in length, or an un-rifled airgun, or a rifled firearm of a calibre not exceeding .22 inches and having a barrel of not less than 24 inches in length".
Since the Seanad met last week, I inquired from a military friend and I am now told that there is definitely such a thing as a pistol of .22 calibre —I had suspected this, but I was not sure. Now I am definitely assured that there is such a pistol in existence and, at the risk of being told that I am making another party political point, I suggest to the Minister that this amendment would be innocuous. If the section in question were adapted as I suggest, it would leave within control rifled firearms of .22 calibre but of the size of pistols.
I have also been told by my military acquaintance that the modern .22 cartridge is a very different thing from the old-fashioned .22 cartridge and that, whereas the old one was non-lethal unless it caught you in a vital spot, the more modern .22 cartridges are charged with new explosives of a kind which very much increase their velocity and, presumably, the degree to which they fragment and scatter once they reach their target. Therefore, the lethal possibilities in .22 weapons are much greater than the Minister possibly realises.
Perhaps the Minister has got extra technical advice about this and if he has, and if he will tell the House what it is, I shall not press this amendment any further. If it is simply a case that the Department put down firearms of a calibre not exceeding .22 inches, without adverting to the possibility of a pistol of that calibre which exists, it does not seem to me that it would be much of a retreat on the Minister's part. Certainly, it would not be interpreted as that by me or by this side if he were to adapt the section accordingly. Even if there were not such a thing as a pistol of .22 calibre, it may be that such a pistol will hereafter be produced.
In his Second Stage speech, while agreeing that this point might legitimately be raised, the Minister said that under section 3 (2B) (b) he was to be enabled to make an order declaring a firearm of any specified kind to be especially dangerous and thus to bring it under the classification of "military weapon". It is only right that the Minister should have that discretion under that section. However, if it is known to his Department and to the Garda, as it must be known, that pistols of this calibre do exist, and that ammunition of a very dangerous kind is now in existence for them, I cannot see why this section should not now be amended in such a way as to place them in exactly the same category, so far as the Firearms Bill is concerned, as pistols of a more traditional calibre, like .38 or .45.
I do not want to make a particular point of this. I realise the Minister proposes to get power to change the situation by order, if he wishes. However, I do not see, if this pistol is now known to exist, why it should not fall automatically into the more dangerous category and why it should not be placed there by the Oireachtas.
I mentioned here on Second Reading that I thought it was unwise to leave the figure "not less than 24 inches". I know that there are quite a number of shotguns being manufactured, and they are the most popular ones, and the barrels are invariably under 24 inches. A number of these guns will be taken in for licence next August and this Bill will be in force by then. Anybody who goes into a Garda barracks with a shotgun with a barrel of less than 24 inches calibre will be told by the Garda that it is outside this new Firearms Act and that it cannot be licensed. Many of the continental guns are now down to 20 inches. Like Senator Kelly's point about the new high velocity ammunition, there are special high velocity cartridges being used in them, and they have the same performance as the longer barrelled guns. Anybody who possesses one of these now will find himself with what is described as a lethal weapon that cannot be licensed.
Notwithstanding the way it is expressed in the amendment sheet, the effect of the proposed amendment on the Bill would be only to add the words "and having a barrel of not less than 24 inches in length", because what goes before those words is already in the Bill.
It would be to add those words.
It would be to transpose them from behind "shotgun" to the end of the clause, so as to catch the rifles?
Yes. Subject to what I have to say now, I am prepared to accept the principle of this amendment. Although we are well aware that there are .22 pistols, and they are the sort of things we would like to cover, they are not very frequently found in this country. Unfortunately, there is a very large number of .22 rifles the barrels of which are not alone less than 24 inches but are fairly considerably less and I am advised — I am probably no wiser than anybody else here — that quite a high proportion of .22 rifles have barrels of around 18 inches and that a significantly high proportion have barrels of less than 24 inches. If I accept Senator Kelly's amendment, I am creating a situation that I must transform all those weapons, without exception, into military type weapons. On balance, although I am attracted to the amendment because it perhaps makes the thing clearer at the outset, I think more good would be done by my being allowed to rely on the powers I would get under paragraph (b) of this subsection.
What I would propose to do, subject to expert advise, is to declare .22 pistols military weapons or "specially dangerous" which is the phrase used in this paragraph. I am, however, loath to transform such a large number of .22 rifles into that category without examining the consequences. For that reason the safer thing would be to leave the paragraph as it is and allow the powers under it to be exercised as would be felt appropriate afterwards.
I see the Minister's point. If the Minister assures the House that he intends to place .22 pistols in the dangerous category, by order, I will certainly accept that and withdraw the amendment. Senator Honan's point is up to him to defend. However, if the Minister is resisting my amendment on the grounds that to accept it would mean transforming a large number of at present legally held and legally used .22 rifles into lethal weapons, exactly the same argument must be effective against the section as it stands in respect of the shotguns mentioned by Senator Honan.
I want to apologise to Senator Honan that I overlooked dealing with his point the last time I was on my feet. The advice I have — I am entirely subject to or dependent on the technical advice I get as to these matters — is that the type of shotgun referred to by Senator Honan is a rare one in this country. It is a continental one which has been imported here only in very small quantities. Furthermore, it is, as a general rule, some form of automatic gun. I am, quite frankly, not terribly keen on this type of gun. Although I can appreciate that it will cause difficulties for a small number of people, we cannot get over that. However, the difficulty will be caused only to the extent that the type of shotgun referred to by Senator Honan will be put in the military type category. Provided that they are duly licensed and looked after by the owners there would not be anything to worry about.
Would it get a gaming licence?
I should think so. I cannot bind an individual Garda superintendent in an individual case, but if a person had been getting a firearm certificate up to now I do not think he would be likely to be refused.
If the superintendent knows that "24 inches" is contained in this Bill would he be entitled to give him one?
He would be.
On the sporting aspect of this, I know that people even though they are in the minority, who shoot deer use a .303 rifle. Do I take it that these now fall under a different category? Would it be possible to have an ordinary sporting licence for a .303 rifle?
No. A .303 rifle will come under the military type category as far as penalties are concerned.
Can a person license it?
He can now and he will be able to then if he can convince the local superintendent that it was needed for a specific purpose. Certificates for such firearms are sparingly given.
The only point of this differentiation is in relation to penalties. I would assume, I hope correctly, that in the case of people who have been getting licences for particular weapons and have been using them for sporting purposes, there is no reason why a Garda superintendent should decide, merely on account of the passing of this Bill, not to give licences for these weapons any more. This section states that if the weapon falls into a particular category as regards length of barrel the penalty for not having a licence for it, if it is what the Minister refers to as the military type category, will be very much heavier. It does not mean that one cannot get a licence that one has already been getting.
I move amendment No. 7:
In subsection (1), line 27, after "part" to insert:—
"for use solely as part of such firearm."
I suggest that amendments Nos. 7 and 8 be discussed together as the same point is involved in both. The point involved here is one to which I referred on the Second Stage. Section 5 of the Bill authorises the sale of a replacement, spare or extra part of the firearm to a person who has a firearm certificate. The point I made on the Second Reading debate was that technically and legally by virtue of this section it would be possible for a person to accumulate sufficient replacements, spares or extra parts, to provide himself with a second firearm.
Taking a sporting shot, I think we could regard that as consisting of three component parts — the barrel, the stock and the fore-end which joins the barrel and the stock together. I am assuming for the moment that the trigger mechanism and so on is regarded as part of the stock. There is nothing in the section as it stands to prevent the person who has a shotgun and who has a certificate for it going into a gunsmith and ordering a second pair of barrels. In the past it was quite a common thing for a person to have long barrels and short barrels, two sets of barrels, which fitted the same stock. It certainly would not be anything out of the ordinary for a person to order a second pair of barrels and to get them. Having got a second pair of barrels there is nothing in this section as it stands to prevent him ordering a replacement stock to fit the second pair of barrels. Having got his replacement stock and his second pair of barrels, there is nothing in the world then to prevent him from ordering as an extra part or a spare part, a fore-end to lock the second set of barrels and the second stock together and thus to give himself a second weapon. This is the way I see the position under this section.
I can appreciate that someone may say to me: "Would that not be a great deal of trouble to go to? Why not simply go in and buy a second shotgun and look for a second licence in the ordinary way?" I can see the force and the validity of that argument. This Bill is, by and large, intended to deal not with the person who is acting bona fide but to deal, by tightening up the law, with the person who is acting in a mala fide way. We have to have regard to that. If a loophole exists, as I think it does exist under this section, and if we can stop that loophole now is the time to do so.
I am suggesting that it should be and can be stopped quite simply as far as legal sanction is concerned. I agree that the practical operation may be a different thing, but so far as legal sanction is concerned we should make it clear in relation to this section that in passing the section we are not making lawful or authorising the kind of operation which I have described, that is the person who by dint of ordering a series of replacements or spare parts will acquire a second weapon. We are simply not authorising that under this section.
I suggest that we can deal with it in one or two ways. We can either make it clear in the section that what we are legalising, or declaring not to be unlawful, is the sale of replacement, spare or extra parts for use solely as part of a firearm for which a certificate has been obtained. If we do not want to deal with it in that way we can deal with it by adding a proviso at the end of the section which would declare the intention of Parliament in relation to this by saying:
Provided however that nothing in this section shall make lawful or authorise the sale to anyone in a single or series of transactions of a number of such parts which when put together or assembled would constitute a complete firearm.
If either of these suggestions is adopted it may not have the effect, in practice, of preventing a person from acquiring a sufficient number of additional or replacement parts to assemble a second gun but at least it will say, so far as the Legislature is concerned, that that operation is not lawful and that we never intended it should be lawful when we were passing section 5 of this Bill.
I shall deal with amendment No. 7 first and with the point Senator O'Higgins raised. He wants to ensure that a part could be purchased only if it could be used as a part of a firearm for which a certificate already exists. I do not think this is any problem. I am advised that the two most vital parts of a shotgun— what are described as the action, which is the trigger-cum-hammer of the gun, and the barrel of the gun — cannot normally be acquired as replacements or spares or extras. Authorisation of spare or extra parts could not relate to the vital parts and therefore there can be no question of building up a gun.
To that extent the amendment is not necessary. It is impossible today to purchase the action of a gun as a separate part. I am advised that it is normally possible to get a second set of barrels for your gun only when you are buying the gun originally. The main reason is that the barrels are apparently numbered and an action— trigger-cum-hammer — is never sold separately from a gun. Both of those vital parts, the action—Senator O'Higgins may know it by some other name — are numbered also.
No, it is the action. It is incorporated in the stock. The Minister is talking now about the practice so far as gunsmiths and the manufacturers of shotguns, say in Birmingham or some other place, are concerned. It may be that it is outmoded to give a spare set of barrels or to make up a set of barrels for an action that is sent over to Birmingham for that purpose, but I do not think it would be satisfactory legislation if we left the door open deliberately, as we will be if we no not accept at least the principle of these amendments, because —I made this point earlier and I think it is a serious point — we are not dealing here with the person who is acting, in every way, in a bona fide manner. We are dealing with the person who wants to get around the provisions of the law which we are making now.
It may very well be, and I would accept, that the Minister's advice is accurate that it is not normal practice nowadays to supply second barrels or to manufacture the stock or action to go with those barrels but it seems to me that it would not be unlawful, under this legislation, for someone to set himself up as a manufacturer of spare parts and as a seller of them. He can, perfectly legitimately, go into the market now and advertise from O'Connell Bridge that he is prepared to make spare parts, the action and the barrels, unless we provide against it.
If I could take first the point that I understood Senator O'Higgins to make on amendment No. 8. It refers to the position where so many component parts would be acquired under authorities that, in fact, a complete and usable firearm would be formed. In that situation, quite clearly that person would hold the second firearm unlawfully unless he got a new certificate for it. He could not rely on his two, three or four authorities for component parts. He would have to have a new certificate if that was the situation.
The section deals with it not so much from the point of view of the holder as from the seller. It is making lawful the sale of particular replacement parts and it is that I am trying to clarify.
"Sell" has a somewhat specialised meaning that we will be coming to in the next subsection. The Senator will see in the third last line of paragraph (a):
to have possession of such firearm or who is entitled by virtue of the Firearms Acts, 1925 to 1971, to have possession and no separate authorisation should be required for the possession and carriage of such part by the purchaser.
This section is looking at it from the point of view of the person selling. It says: "In certain circumstances it will not be unlawful to sell replacements, spare or extra parts." The point I am making is that it should be unlawful to sell them if it is known that the effect of selling them is to, in practice, provide another firearm.
I will try to meet the Senator in this way: to try to overcome that problem, even though I may not agree entirely with him, I think I can accept amendment No. 7, and if he withdraws amendment No. 8 that would probably overcome the situation he has in mind.
This is being moved by me simply because in the particular context the words I seek to delete are actually superfluous because they do not arise in the section. It is usual to end up this sort of definition by adding the statement, and the noun of the verb you are defining will be construed accordingly. In this instance we find it is superfluous.
This amendment proposes to empower the Minister for Justice to make the re-registration of a firearms dealer a condition of his confining his dealings as a firearms dealer to the sale and purchase of ammunition for shotguns, for unrifled air guns and for rifled firearms of a calibre not exceeding .22 inches.
Section 51 of the Finance Bill provides for duty at the rate of £25 per annum to be paid by an ordinary firearms dealer and at the rate of £3 per annum by a dealer subject to this condition. The reference in the proposed new subsection of section 9 of the Principal Act to section 10 (1) of that Act is due to the fact that section 10 (1) provides:
It shall not be lawful for any person to manufacture, sell, repair, test or prove or expose for sale, or have in his possession for sale, repair, test or prove by way of trade or business, any firearm or ammunition unless such person is registered in the register of firearms dealers.
This might be construed, in the absence of the proposed subsection (8), as permitting any firearms dealer, including a dealer subject to this condition, to manufacture, sell, etc., any firearms or ammunition.
It is desirable to have it put beyond doubt that a dealer who is registered subject to the sporting ammunition condition cannot avail himself of the final clause of section 10 (1). The proposed subsection (9) of section 9 of the Principal Act is intended to avoid a situation where an officer of the Department would have to appear in court to prove that a dealer was subject to the sporting ammunition condition. It may be compared with section 24 of the 1964 Act which provides that in a prosecution for an offence under the Principal Act it shall not be necessary to prove that a certificate licence, etc., under that Act does not exist.
Subsection (2) of the proposed new section relates to subsections (2) and (3) of section 10 of the Principal Act, with which subsection (2), as amended by section 16 of the 1964 Act, should be read. The purpose of the proposed subsection (2) is to put beyond doubt that it is only where a firearms dealer is not subject to the sporting ammunition condition that it should be lawful to sell — and I use "sell" in its defined sense in the Acts cited together, that is either to sell, give or lend to him a firearm or any ammunition other than sporting ammunition.
The purpose of the proposed subsection (3) of this proposed section is to enable the Minister to remove from the register of firearms dealers any dealer whose registration is subject to the sporting ammunition condition where the Minister is satisfied that he has broken the condition. This will be appropriate where there is not enough evidence to justify a prosecution or in a case that was thought to be urgent. There is already power in section 11 (2) of the Principal Act to remove from the register any dealer who has been convicted of an offence under the Act.
I move amendment No. 11:
Before section 6 to insert the following new section:—
"( ) Section 3 (1) of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the addition, after ‘firearms certificate' of the following:
‘; provided however that no one person shall be granted more than one firearms certificate at any one time in respect of any firearm not being a sporting firearm, unless the Minister shall certify in writing that in his opinion the granting of more than one such firearms certificate to such person will involve no danger to the public safety or the peace and that such person is capable of effective custody and supervision of any such additional firearm, and a fresh certificate from the Minister shall be produced to the superintendent of the Garda Síochána of the district on any application for a firearms certificate in respect of any such additional firearm'."
Amendment No. 11 deals with a matter which I also adverted to in my speech here last week and which the Minister dealt with briefly in his closing speech. It is the matter of collections of firearms. It seems to me, and I said so last week, that there is a special danger in a situation in which it is possible for somebody to make a collection of modern firearms as a hobby. I made it clear that I was not talking about antiques which are, in any case, excluded from the application of the Principal Act by one of the Act's sections. I was speaking about relatively modern firearms of the kind that, say, are collected as souvenirs or were brought back as souvenirs from the Second World War and which are still highly lethal.
It seems to me that there should be some control of an absolute kind on the possibility of a person in this State amassing a collection of this sort. When I raised this point last week the Minister met it after his own fashion by first of all saying that I had not listened to his opening speech and/or that if I had done so I would not have raised this point, nor would I have raised it had I troubled to read section 51 of the Finance Act.
Section 51 of the Finance Act is relied on, as far as I can understand it, by the State to control the problem to which I adverted. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Colley, in speaking about this section said that it was a new provision. He said:
Section 51 increases the excise duty payable by firearms dealers from £1 to £25, except that the duty payable by dealers in ammunition for "sporting" guns will be £3. This is a new provision which was not announced in the Budget. Its specific purpose is to induce as many dealers as possible to confine themselves to dealing in "sporting" ammunition and it effectively forms part of the measures that have been passed by the House under the Firearms Bill, 1971, to secure a tightening-up of the existing statutory controls on firearms.
I acknowledge that I did not know about this section when I spoke here the last day but I still thought it worthwhile putting down this amendment because in my view that section does not meet the problems that I adverted to. The Minister's view, which I presume reflects that of his Department, is that it would be enough to make it a serious thing financially for a firearms dealer to have firearms on his premises. The Minister said, reported at column 388 of volume 70, No. 5 of the Seanad Official Report:
One of the reasons that there are so many collectors of firearms at the moment and that they have so many arms in circumstances which are not always very secure is that the fee payable on registration as a firearms dealer has never been increased since 1925, when it was fixed at a £1.
He went on to say that in the case which I instanced last week of the man from whose premises a large number of usable and lethal weapons had been stolen — I was glad he had this case in mind — that this man is not really a registered firearms dealer in the accepted sense that he trades in or deals in firearms. What he was really was a collector, but it was more economic for him as it was for many others to hold his collection as a registered firearms dealer.
It may be that I misunderstood what was in the Minister's mind or that I misunderstood the effect of the Finance Bill, and I am very willing to accept contradiction or correction if that is so. As I said last week, there are people who make a hobby of collecting firearms, every possible kind of pistol or rifle they can lay their hands on, modern ones and lethal ones. If I were setting out to put a stop to that — not because I think it wrong that a person should have such a hobby but because of the temptation that it represents to other people to make a raid on his premises, which of course will not be as securely guarded as a military store and to possess themselves by breaking through a kitchen window or something of that kind of ten or 20 firearms —this is not the way I would go about it.
A man who is a firearms enthusiast is not going to be deterred from setting up as an ostensible firearms dealer by a £25 registration fee. Perhaps I misunderstood the sense of what the Minister was saying, but I take him to imply at least that the £25 registration fee will be a deterrent to bogus firearms dealers. If I have understood him correctly — and I do not mind his interrupting me if I misunderstood that— what it boils down to is this: that he seriously expects somebody who is a passionate collector of firearms to be deterred from obtaining for himself this status of dealer by a sum of money which is less than the cost of a good second-hand shotgun.
I am far from being an expert on firearms but I know that the cost of a good shotgun can run into three figures. Even a reasonable, second-hand one will cost more than £25. Even a .22 rifle of the simplest kind costs I think —other Members may know more about this, but I do not think you could buy a very good one for £25. In other words, the Minister expects that to impose a registration fee of this kind on firearms dealers is going to deter the bogus dealer who simply wants to make a collection. I do not think it is going to deter him. I do not think for a second that somebody who has now free legal licence to import and keep in his premises arms of the kind I have been describing is going to be put off this hobby, if hobby it is, by a charge of £25. It is probably less than he pays on road tax on his car in the year.
I do not wish to labour this point unnecessarily but this solution to the problem — and it is a real problem as the Minister himself acknowledged— is only, I think, tinkering with it. It is not going to solve it and nothing will solve it unless the Garda are enabled to impose strict control weapon by weapon, man by man. That is the reason why I have put down amendment No. 11, the point of it being that anybody who wishes to have a firearms certificate in respect of a firearm other than a sporting firearm must have a certificate from the Minister himself that more than one such firearm may be held by him in safety.
I know nothing about these matters and I would be very slow to inquire into them in case I aroused suspicion about myself, but where somebody feels that he is in danger — perhaps because of a local feud or something like that, I have no idea what are the circumstances in which the Garda grant licences for the holding of a pistol, for example — there must be plenty of such licences, or some anyway—I do not know what the criteria they apply are and I do not know what the conditions in which people apply for them are, but the average person who feels himself at risk, perhaps in local trouble in the country or something of that kind, is probably adequately protected with one pistol. I am only guessing about this and I complain now, not for the first time, about the absence of adequate information in explanatory memoranda on points of this kind, either in the explanatory memorandum to the Finance Bill or in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill before us or, indeed, so far as the information given in the Minister's opening statement goes.
If somebody wants to accumulate more than one such firearm, not being a sporting firearm, in other words let us suppose he has one pistol for self-defence and if he wants more than one pistol, more than one lethal weapon, I think he should be asked to go right up to the Minister for permission to have it. The Minister should issue a certificate to him certifying that in the Minister's opinion the issuing of an additional firearm certificate will not constitute any danger to the public safety or peace and that such person is capable of proper custody and supervision of any such additional firearm. I think it is not too much to ask that any time that person wants another firearm he must go to the Minister for a fresh certificate. I know this is tough on some people. I am sure there is a small proportion of the population who make a hobby of keeping guns but it does not seem to me to be too much to impose a strict control on it at a time when guns are very much in the news.
I know the Minister is aware of this problem. It seems to me that his way of handling it is not going to be effective. The new fee is far too low. I do not think it will be a deterrent in any case to a man who is really interested in this hobby and I think it would be more sensible if a control of the kind I suggest were placed on the granting of firearm certificates in respect of more than one non-sporting firearm.
In relation to the amendment in Senator Kelly's name, I should like to mention a particular type of weapon. Senator Kelly is concerned about the fact that in the case of a person having one firearm — and I take it not of a sporting nature — the acquisition of another one should mean that he would have to get a special certificate from the Minister. There is a composite .22 rifle. A pistol is incorporated in the breech of this gun and the pistol can be detached from the rifle and become just an ordinary pocket .22 pistol. I am not sure at the moment what certification is necessary for the possession of this gun. I know people who have this type of .22 weapon. The long barrel and stock is one portion of it but a pistol is incorporated that can be detached and used effectively as a pistol.
There should be extra certification necessary for this type of weapon. A man may have what is essentially a sporting rifle, a .22 sporting rifle, but by removing the pistol from the breech he may have a lethal weapon that is far from sporting and that can be used in circumstances completely apart from sport. This is a very dangerous type of weapon, and I would ask the Minister to ensure that some extra certification would be necessary for this particular type of weapon.
I will deal with Senator Kelly's point first. I think he may be under certain misconceptions with regard to this problem. His amendment here, amendment No. 11, relates only to military-type weapons and the number of licensed military-type weapons in this country is small. When I say small I mean that .303 rifles form the main part of the number. The number of those that are licensed are something over 400.
The point that Senator Kelly is trying to deal with here in his amendment No. 11 is the case of persons who already hold a military-type weapon under a certificate but want to hold a second weapon. I am advised that the number of people who hold more than one military-type weapon under certificate is about 12. Senator Kelly may have fallen into the trap of being too concerned with those who are legally holding the weapons. The real people we are worried about are those who do not bother to get certificates for obvious reasons.
It is very difficult, as things stand, to get a certificate for a .303 rifle. It is extremely difficult to get a certificate for a second one or for some other type of military weapon. Sometimes a .303 licence is given for shooting deer. A certificate is sometimes given also for some type of pistol that is highly effective at short range to finish off animals for the purpose of avoiding cruelty. For that reason Senator Kelly's amendment would really achieve very little. In addition, the fact that the Senator would seek to make the Minister the person responsible for giving a certificate would not, in practice, be very effective, because the Minister, in deciding whether or not to give a certificate, would have to take cognisance of the local superintendent's report or recommendation. The local superintendent is the person who gives or refuses the certificate anyway.
Senator Lyons referred to a remarkable weapon. From his description of it, it sounds very dangerous. It is doubtful whether a local superintendent would give a certificate for it at all unless the person getting the certificate was known to him to be reliable. A single certificate would hardly cover such a weapon and two quite separate and distinct certificates might be necessary — one for the rifle and a separate and much more difficult certificate to obtain for the pistol. If the type of weapon to which Senator Lyons referred were to become common in this country, it could be declared by order of the Minister under section 3 (2) (B) (b) to be especially dangerous and it would be brought under the military-type category.
The licence issued is for sport at the moment. It is a sporting rifle and it has a pistol incorporated in it.
Presumably it ought to have two certificates.
Again, Sir, we are referring to parts. The pistol could be designated as a part of the rifle and could come under the section Senator O'Higgins spoke about earlier.
I accept the Minister's statement that the number of people who would be affected by my amendment is very small. The point which the Minister made in regard to himself and the power which I wish the House to give him is not a valid one. There are plenty of cases in which an authority of a higher order is given an exclusive jurisdiction in something not because the subordinate authorities were not trusted and not because their advice is not going to be sought, but simply to make it somewhat more difficult, or to attach more significance to the making of an application. If I found myself in a situation where not the local superintendent, but a Minister, would have to give me permission for something, I would feel that a more stringent control was being placed on me. I cannot believe that a Minister, although he will take into account the advice given by his permanent officials or in this case, by the Garda, would not exercise a discretion of his own in some cases.
In view of what the Minister says I will not press this amendment. Will the Minister tell us what other criteria which, according to his information, a superintendent of the Garda Síochána exercises in regard to weapons like pistols? The House would like to know what kind of criteria, if the Minister can tell us off the cuff, a superintendent exercises in regard to even these dozen people we were talking about who have more than one gun. I know the Principal Act lays down certain general standards in theory, but I should like to know if the Minister can tell us what kind of people in practice, if he does not regard it dangerous to the public order or dangerous to the people themselves, would obtain a licence for more than one lethal firearm, not being of a sporting kind.
There are some aspects of this question which I cannot talk about for obvious reasons. The granting of a licence for what we now describe in this debate as a military type weapon is rarely if ever decided by the local superintendent without referring it to the Commissioner's office, even where he is fully satisfied. The 1925 Act, section 4, as amended, sets out factors which must be taken into account by a superintendent in deciding whether or not to grant a certificate.
So far as the .303 rifle is concerned, one of the main reasons that a certificate is given for it is for deer shooting. I understand it is regarded as cruel to shoot a deer with a bullet of a calibre less than .303 because it will not kill it. Deer shot with .22 rifles have died in agony several days later. Pistol licences are granted very often to genuine sportsmen who would want to finish off animals of different types but who do not want to use their rifle or shotgun. It is quicker and less cruel to use this method.
This may not be of any assistance, but it seems to me that, so far as firearms certificates are concerned, section 4 of the 1925 Act does give the superintendent power to have regard to the question of public safety. Sections 4 and 5 would both entitle the superintendent to have regard to the question of public safety. This is on the issuing of firearms certificates. The particular case to which the Minister referred on the Second Reading discussion was the case of a collector, who rather than get individual certificates, had himself registered as a registered firearms dealer. The Minister makes the point that under the Finance Act that operation would become more expensive.
Am I incorrect in thinking that section 9 of the Firearms Act, 1925, already gives the Minister very strong powers to deal with that position once the person seeks to have himself registered as a firearms dealer? Subsection (3) of section 9 of the 1925 Act provides that
any person who applies in accordance with the provisions of this section to be registered in the Register of Firearms Dealers and pays the fee for the time being required by law and satisfies the Minister that he is immediately about to carry on business as a firearms dealer in premises suitable for that business, may be registered in such register. But when considering any such application for registration, the Minister shall have regard to the character of the applicant and generally to the public safety and preservation of the peace.
It seems that under existing legislation, the Minister himself is entitled to take into consideration questions of public safety and preservation of the peace. He is not only entitled but is required to take those matters into consideration in connection with applications for the registration of a firearms dealer. Under sections 4 and 5 of that Act the ordinary firearms certificate can be adjudicated upon by the Garda superintendent, having regard to the question of public safety which was mentioned in paragraph 4. The superintendent should be satisfied that such person can be permitted to have in his possession, use and carry a firearm or ammunition without danger to the public safety or to the peace. By and large, the existing law covers the position from the public safety point of view, both in relation to firearms certificates and in relation to registration as firearms dealers.
There are about 1,100 dealers at the moment. We do not anticipate that the £25 duty will have an enormous effect; certainly it will have some effect. There will be power to register subject to the condition. The section which I have put in here is associated with section 51. If we confine dealing to ammunition for sporting firearms only — if I might go back for a moment to the point we were dealing with earlier in our discussion on this amendment — this amendment relates only to military-type weapons and to second or subsequent military-type weapons. The problem that gave rise in Senator Kelly's mind to this amendment, and in my mind to section 51 and to the new section here, arose principally out of the case which was referred to previously. It was said that ten or 11 guns were taken somewhere in the midlands. The significant thing about that case was that all those guns were sporting-type guns. They were .22 rifles and shotguns, so they would not come under Senator Kelly's amendment. Experience shows that the vast majority of these so-called dealers, who are in fact collectors, do not collect .303s or lethal or military-type weapons: they collect .22s and shotguns.
There is one figure that I want to correct somewhat, although I cannot correct it to a precise figure. It is the figure of approximately 12, which I gave to Senator Kelly. The actual figure may be more than that. I cannot give a precise figure other than to say that it is more than 12.
Could we take it that where somebody applies for a licence for a second military-type weapon, the superintendent of the Garda Síochána would have regard to the fact that he already has got one such weapon? Such person would not be in the situation of a citizen applying for the first time for a weapon? I presume that a stricter and closer look will be taken at the situation than was taken the first time he applied.
That is so. Undoubtedly that is so.
The superintendent is entitled to be satisfied that he has a good reason for acquiring the second certificate.
On the first occasion the superintendent is not just entitled to be satisfied but he must be satisfied.
Arising out of what the Minister has just said, has he any information which may be relevant to the opposition expressed to the amendment? Has the Minister any information with reference to the number of people who already hold more than one weapon, not being a military-type weapon? The Minister says that those holding military-type weapons are only 12 in number. What about all the other people? What about those who hold all these shotguns, .22s and so on? It would be of assistance to the House if the Minister could give us an idea of this figure, and also of the total number of licensed guns in the country.
I have given nearly all those figures in the Dáil about two months ago. Unfortunately, I have not got them with me now. The figure for the total number of licensed guns in the country is about 110.000. I cannot be more precise. I am advised that the number of those who would have two shotguns would be in excess of 5,000.
Perhaps the public interest would be involved in the security of these weapons if a person has a collection of guns that could be described as sporting guns or as military weapons. Perhaps it is this public interest in security that is at least partly behind Senator Kelly's amendment, which is worth considering. A person might not have the necessary precautions to safeguard a collection of sporting weapons. There is the potential danger that, if there were a dozen or more sporting weapons in a person's house, they might be taken for non-sporting use.
They would not be covered by the amendment. The amendment is confined to military-type weapons.
If a person has a collection of guns it might be necessary to make inquiries as to the precautions being taken regarding them.
Has the Minister any information as to the number of guns held under certificate that have been used in robberies, depredations or other crimes during any particular period?
I would say offhand that the answer is "nil". If they were used in any such activities, they would not be held under certificate.
I am wondering why we are so concerned about guns that are held under certificate.
We are more concerned with the ones that are not.
That is the whole problem.
I shall put down amendments for the Report Stage. I have said, as clearly as I could, that it is not part of our tactics to delay the House or the Minister, but I must put down these amendments and I must have an opportunity of doing so.